Fine tuning the Google+ Stream aims to offer choice and flexibility but is it also an admission of failure?
The folks at Google+ think that any time is shipping time which is a great philosophy as it means new features can appear almost at will.
True to their word they have released a slew of new features for the holidays including the much touted fine-grained controls to manage your Stream.
Facebook manages your feed for you; it shows you what it thinks is important based, in part, on whose posts you interact with and the popularity of content such as multiple friends listening to the same song on Spotify.
Plus’ “Circle equalizer” lets us place a weighting on each of our Circles and is intended to put control in the hands of the user rather than the algorithm.
It has been suggested that organising our feeds using algorithms causes casual acquaintances – who may not interact frequently – to lose touch as their items are relegated within the feed; Google’s system of allowing us to assign a priority to each circle aims to solve this problem.
The argument is that you may not +1 or comment on all items from a particular group (such as family members) but you don’t want their posts to drift off into obscurity. A higher weighting on their Circle will ensure that those items will be prevalent in your stream.
Users have been clamouring for ways to organise and filter the Plus stream but does applying a weighting actually indicate that people aren’t using Circles correctly or, perhaps even, at all?
We were sold Circles as a revelation in online sharing and organisation: why have everyone lumped in together when you can easily divide them into groups by relationship, topic, location and then work with those groups accordingly.
Circles enable us to consume content from these specific groups and target them effectively so that the right content is shared with the right people. Don’t want to miss a post from a close friend or family member? Put them in a specific circle and view it on its own.
It is good to be able to manage your stream but, by enabling us to assign priorities to specific Circles, is Google admitting that people are only viewing their primary Stream? Have Circles not been the resounding success we expected?
Lists never caught on at Twitter and have now been virtually relegated to the feature graveyard. Facebook groups were also slow to gain traction, partly because they were tucked away within the depths of the interface, until their recent reinvention with smart lists.
Circles are designed as the ultimate list but – with Google needing users to populate Plus with content – the emphasis is very much on sharing rather than consumption.
Has our time spent on “linear” social networks caused us to become so conditioned to having a single timeline? Has the Circles experiment failed to convert us to thinking in groups?
Fine tuning the Stream has been universally praised but I can’t help but feel it flies contrary to the very reason Circles were employed.
If we are using our Circles as intended then the focus of stream organisation should surely be on filtering out that which we don’t want to see rather than trying to catch that which we do.
Why not discuss this post on Google+?
Image by Wysz